A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
WHEN “NO” IS ACTUALLY “YES”
Mom wasn’t a great typist, but she was better at it than I was. She had to be. She was a receptionist/assistant/mother hen for a local obstetrician. Typing was just one of the many services she offered, along with scheduling appointments, rejoicing with those who had reason to rejoice (and comforting those who did not) and taping cartoons (most of them lampooning doctors) on the ceiling above the examining table so the patients had something to occupy their minds while the doctor was . . . you know . . . doctoring.
I, on the other hand, was a high school sophomore who typed like a mother hen searching for grub worms: hunt and peck. Hunt and peck. Hunt and . . . oops!
Where’s the white-out?
So I assumed Mom would see the wisdom of my plan as clearly as I could.
“You want me to WHAT?” she asked when I mentioned it one evening after dinner.
“Type up my debate cards,” I said, only a tad less confidently than I said it the first time.
“So you’re basically asking me to do your homework for you?”
“No – not at all,” I assured her. “I’ll do all the research. I’ll find the quotes and I’ll organize them. I just need you to . . . you know . . . type them.”
I liked how that sounded more every time I said it.
“And how many of these cards will there be?” she wanted to know.
“Oh, just a few dozen this year,” I said. “But Mr. B says that if we do well and make the debate team next year, we’ll be typing hundreds and hundreds of cards.” I hesitated, then added: “Won’t that be great? Think of all the time we’ll get to spend together!”
Mom smiled. “It sounds like you need to learn to type,” she said. “And these debate cards are going to provide you with a wonderful opportunity to learn!”
Which is when Mom introduced me to the Green Monster, an avocado-colored typewriter that was just a step above pounding out letters with a hammer and chisel.
A very small step.
The Green Monster was a portable typewriter as long as your definition of the word “portable” includes “it can only be moved from place to place by two linebackers and a complicated system of winches and pulleys.” And it was a manual typewriter, which meant you had to push each letter key hard enough that this long arm would come out and strike the paper through black tape. The only thing missing was a little prehistoric bird perched on the end to squawk “Ding!” when you reached the end of a row – otherwise it was positively Flintstonian.
To be honest, I was pretty hurt that Mom wouldn’t type my debate cards for me. Other moms were doing it for their kids. Why couldn’t my mother do this one small thing for me?
“You can do this,” Mom would say calmly every time I whined about how hard it was to push the keys on the Green Monster. “Before long you’ll be the fastest typist in the class.”
That didn’t happen. But by the time I got to college I was pretty darn fast, especially on my friend’s cool Selectric (he was still hunting and pecking his way through college English – evidently his mother had typed his debate cards for him, if you can believe it). Eventually I stumbled into a career path that requires me to type – a lot – and I live in a computerized world in which typing . . . er, keyboarding isn’t just a handy skill – it’s a matter of survival.
Now, I’m not saying Mom foresaw all of that when she refused to type my debate cards. Mostly, she wasn’t willing to do something for me that I could do for myself. But in saying “no” to one small thing in high school, she actually said “yes” to a lot of big things in my life.
Whether or not I became a great typist.
# # #
Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.